It’s that time of year again. After much needed wins against Granada and Sevilla, attention now turns to the derby for Atlético Madrid, set to be one of the most important in recent years, from our perspective.
Fresh off their Champions League mauling at the hands of Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid make the short trip to the Calderón without talisman Cristiano Ronaldo.
Kick-off in the Spanish capital is at 20:00 CET.
You probably don’t need to be reminded how long it’s been since Atlético last won a derby, but it’s also been a while since we had so much to play for, too.
Sure, every year people say the same, but the red and whites are in a position where a win would see us draw level with Real in 2nd spot on the table, and secure a top four finish at the same time.
Should Barcelona beat Athletic in the early game, an Atleti win would also see them crowned Champions. It may be inevitable that Real won’t catch the Catalans, but officially dethroning them in the Calderón would be extra sweet.
As just mentioned, three points would seal our long-awaited return to the Champions League. Real Sociedad (4th) and Valencia (5th) face off in San Sebastián on Sunday, but a win would mean whoever drops points in that game will no longer be able to catch us.
However, it is the derby, and we’ve seen the big build-up come crumbling down within minutes on countless occasions in the past. Real hold a strong psychological advantage that will play in their favour, whatever team Mourinho decides to field.
Simeone on the other hand has opted for his usual big match tactic of calling up the whole team, including B-team regulars Javier Manquillo, Óliver Torres and Saúl Ñíguez.
23 players in total make the call, although that includes Arda Turan who is still yet to return to full training. The Turk is extremely doubtful, although Tiago, who has also spent the last three weeks sidelined with injury, should be back in contention.
The main news of course though, is that Diego Costa will be available, his yellow card against Sevilla rescinded by the RFEF on Wednesday, meaning he is clear to take on los Blancos.
In his press conference, El Cholo was typically cautious, but highlighted just how a big a game faces his team and the opportunity they have.
“The team is good,” he said. “They put in a big performance in Seville, working hard as a group. We’ll approach this game like any other league game, with the same excitement and enthusiasm to take the three points.”
“The league is not finished on Saturday. There are many games left and we always have the desire to keep growing, to improve on last season,” he said. “The higher we can finish, the more important it will be for the club.”
Despite defeats in his first two derbies as manager, the Argentine knows more than anyone just how important this fixture is and made sure to underline that.
“It’s a great opportunity for us and we must win. From the manager’s point of view, [the expectation] makes it more difficult but I’ll go about it the same way as when I was playing.”
As for Real, the rare omission of Cristiano Ronaldo may give our defence an easier night’s sleep tonight, but the influential Sergio Ramos is also rested, and fellow defenders Marcelo, Coentrão and Arbeloa are ruled out as well.
The whites have won 9 of their last 10 league outings, but were dismantled in their Champions League semi-final at Dortmund earlier in the week, 4-1 the final score.
However, they still hold the belief that they can turn it around in the second leg, and will be hoping for a derby win to get the confidence flowing again. Mourinho is renowned for his record in derby matches, and will not be taking the Rojiblancos lightly.
Some players may be rested but given their incredible depth, a strong team will still take to the field on Saturday regardless.
Fans have been asked to be in their seats a good half an hour before kick-off for a mosaic ahead of the players entrance, as we anticipate what is sure to be a special atmosphere in the game that divides the capital. Like against Granada two weeks back, a full house is expected.
After the match, Atleti travel to Azerbaijan for a promotional friendly on Tuesday, before returning for a Galician double bill next week, as we visit both Deportivo and Celta in the space of 4 days.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Courtois, Asenjo
Defenders: Godín, Filipe, Pulido, Cisma, Cata Díaz, Juanfran, Insúa, Miranda, Manquillo
Midfielders: Mario, Tiago, Koke, Raúl García, Arda, C. Rodríguez, Gabi, Saúl, Óliver
Forwards: Adrián, Falcao, Diego Costa
Real Madrid match selection:
Goalkeepers: Casillas, Diego López, Adán
Defenders: Pepe, Varane, Carvalho, Albiol, Nacho
Midfielders: Essien, Özil, Di María, Kaká, Alonso, Modrić, Callejón, Khedira
Forwards: Higuaín, Benzema, Morata